Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reflecting on Korea!

It has occurred to me that I have written a lot about the training Alex and I undertook in Korea and somewhat about the sights we saw. However, I don't think that I have stressed just how friendly the people were.

From our first encounter with Master Park and Mrs Park at the airport - Alex and I have been very fortunate in the people that we encountered in Korea. Ok, Anne Marie was already known to many of the people we met and there is no doubt that this smoothed the way for Alex and I. However, both of us have been amazed by the warmth and friendliness of the Korean people. Nothing has been too much trouble; nor has the generosity we experienced been limited to people that we were introduced to. For example one day during our stay in Korea, Alex, Anne and I got lost on the underground system, as our train terminated at a place we were not expecting it to!! We were trying to figure our where we wanted to go and one guy, a total stranger, came up to us and with no English at his disposal, helped us to figure out our route and went so far as to take us to the platform that we needed to be at to catch the train. There were many other instances like this during our stay.

The Martial Arts training and the sights were wonderful, but the thing that has made the trip truly special has been the warmth and friendliness of the Korean people.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Training with Master Gil-Jun Park

Master Park, as i said earlier, is awesome. His technique and ability perfect and precise. His knowledge of Martial Arts is comprehensive. He put us through our paces from Tuesday 4th to Saturday 8th. Tue-Fri consisting of two 3 hour sessions a day and Friday we did three sessions that day and one last training session on Saturday morning.

From the start Master Park asked us what we would like to learn and concentrated on those areas that we were interested in. Although we did do some TKD, we mainly concentrated on Hap Ki Do. The training was hard but insightful, as Master Park is one of those teachers who pays meticulous detail to every little aspect of training.

It is the height of summer in Seoul and the weather was consistently around 30 degrees. Needless to say Instructor Alex, Anne Marie and myself lost a few kilos whilst training at his dojang. Like every aspect of his session, the warm up was comprehensive and lasted a minimum of 30 minutes. Master Park explained (whether through his wife or one of his English speaking students) the purpose behind every warm up exercise: what part of the body it was meant to affect and more importantly exactly how. Only then then did we commence with Hap Ki Do training in earnest.

Instructor Alex, commented, that one of the main things that stood out for him during our time training with Master Park was the completeness of his system of Hap Ki Do. Master Park constantly linked one element of training to another and in this manner gave us a deeper insight into the complete whole.

For Anne Marie, what stood out for her was Master Park's passion for teaching; his ability to explain and convey ideas all the more impressive due to his lack of English or should I say in this circumstance - our lack of Korean.

For myself, one of the things that really stood out, was the depth to which he explained 'Dujoung breathing' and the channeling of Ki energy. This was something that had been explained to me in the past by other English speaking Korean Masters, but yet again, Master Park was able to open a whole knew world of understanding for all three of us through his passion for teaching and his comprehensive knowledge.

I should also note that both Master Park and his wife have a great sense of humour. After training a couple of days with Master Park, Alex and I asked Mrs Park if there was a laundry service near our hotel that we could use (the hotel prices being far too high) as our uniforms were becoming undeniably ripe!! Mrs Park promptly offered to wash our uniforms for us - which we gratefully accepted. However, upon the next days training after demonstrating 'rather firm wrist locks/throws on both Instructor Alex and I, Master Park was heard to comment in English "Washing!" nor could Mrs Park hide her deep belly laugh on these occasions.

Nor was the week all training and no play. In between training sessions we managed to get some shopping in, visited the Kukkiwon (the official headquarters for WTF Tae Kwon Do) and watched a Kukkiwon TKD demonstration at the beautiful setting of the historical Gyeonghuigung Palace.

Friday, August 7, 2009

From Sunmudo to training with Master Gil-Jun Park

Photos Top to Bottom:
1] Sunrise at Golgul Temple
2] Dinner time at Golgul Temple
3] Chanting with the Monks at Golgul Temple
4 & 5] Instuctor Alex suffering for the Art,
under the sure hands of Master Gil-Jun Park

The temple stay was out of this world. Only stayed one night, but felt like we were there for three -that is what getting up at 4am to chant with monks will do for you. We stayed at Golgul Temple in Gyeongju province -think they have a website. The city of Gyeongju was the capital for the Silla dynasty. Those who know their TKD history will recognise the name and will link it with the Hwarang Do Knights who were early warrior heroes of Silla Kingdom and of Korean Martial Arts from which TKD arose. Golgul Temple is Headquarters of Sunmudo which translates as Zen Martial Way. As such a great deal of emphasis is put on meditation before, during and after martial training.

Our teacher was simply awesome - his technique beautiful to watch. The temple is set on the side of a mountain and I mean on the side of a mountain. We drank from a natural spring and after chanting with the monks we watched the sun rise then listened to the oriental sound of nature - as all the birds, crickets and other insects greeted the dawn. We may have only been there for just one night and a day - yet Golgul Temple sunk into western souls. So many experiences and, just imagine, we have not even finished the 1st leg of our trip as yet.

On the morning of Tuesday 3rd August we caught the 7:30am train from Gyeongju Station for our 4 hour journey back to Seoul. We managed to book back into the Valentine Hotel and get some sleep as we were due to commence training with Maser Gil-Jun Park that evening.

After missing our first opportunity to train with Master Park, Alex, Anne and I commenced training with him that evening. So far we have trained with him everyday since Tuesday: 3 hours in the morning from 10:ooam and another 3 hours with him from 8pm - excellent stuff but damn hard. Don't know about Instructor Alex, but kind of wish this trip had happened 10 years ago, when I was young and fit and Spritely - but loving it none the less.

Master Park teaches his students Tae Kwon Do up to about Blue belt at which point he starts to teach them Hap Ki Do. Master Park learnt his Martial Arts at Yougin University where he is also a lecturer. It was explained to us, at some point in our journey, that TKD in Korea is practiced mainly by children. We must remember that Korea has a great many different Martial Arts; quite often adults diverge into others styles on entering adulthood.

However, TKD is a compulsory part of Military Service. But it would seem that the various Universities (of which there are many) take on the responsibility to push the boundaries of TKD. Many students, on entering University, will take up TKD as a serious full time course of study - along side their academic studies. The majority of Korean World & Olympic Forms and Sparring champions come through the University system.

If Master Park is anything to go on that system must be quite awesome. Like most instructors Master Park leads by example - but he has the ability to make everything seem so easy. His training is structured and succinct, with every aspect from the warm up to the advanced techniques linked in such manner as to create a complete whole.

More to follow....

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From Kumdo to Sunmudo

Photos top to bottom:
1] Anne, Instructor Alex and I with our Sunmudo Master.
2] Handing Winston Churchill Fellowship Letter to Grand Master Oh & Grand Master Jung, Heads of Korea Headong Kumdo Association.
3] Instructor Alex learns to cut.
4] Instuctor Cliff, Anne Marie & Instructor Alex at Gulgol Temple.
5] Kumdo training with Grand Master Oh.
6] Relaxing with Grand Master Oh and family.
7] Mrs Oh prepares dinner.
8] Instructor Cliff learns The Way of The Sword.

The following was written at 5:30am on Sunday 1st Aug.

We have had an excellent first few days. In the context of the Martial Arts, we have managed to train with a living legend within Tae Kwon Do, Grand Master Lee -which in Alex's 30 years my 24 years of practicing TKD- is the first complete, all round Tae Kwon Doist that either of us have ever encountered. Didn't dare ask him his age, but he must be well into his 60's, possibly early 70's but his knowledge (which I expected to be great) was awesome but even his ability was unbelievable!

Also gained the opportunity to stay with Grand Master Oh and his family for one night - which gave us an insight into how Korean families live. Grand Master Oh is a master of Kumdo (Way of the Sword) and we had the rare chance to practice sword forms with him -a very humbling experience - and to actually do some cutting. After which Mrs Oh prepared us some home cooked Korean dishes all washed down with some nice rice wine (in my case two or three glasses!).

Other things we have managed to do in the last few days are: visit a Korean monastery, high up in the mountains near Seoul -the capital of Korea and we ate in a restaurant that specialised in Tofu. This evening , or should I say Saturday night, Alex, Anne Marie and I managed to navigate the underground system and find our way to the heart of Seoul's shopping district. Lets put it into perspective for you; name brand shoes/trainers from around 15, 000 - 20, 000 Wun. Does that sound expensive? Well bear in mind 10 pounds = 17, 000 Wun -so everything is so CHEEEAP!!

Anyway, to answer your question, why am I up so early? Well, we're getting ready to go and catch a train, as we have a four hour journey to Golgul Temple, in Geyeongju province, where we will be spending the day and staying the night. Oh, by the way the temple is run by the fighting monks of Korea who practice Sunmudo which translates as Zen Martial Way and as such, puts a great emphasis on meditation before, during and after Martial training.

Part to the programme is waking up 4am tomorrow morning to chanting, running and training with the monks.